One moment

There’s a chance, in each passing interaction with someone, to say “thank you.”

Not a “thank you for this thing you’ve just done” (gotten me a coffee, given me my ticket to board this flight) said automatically.  Rather, a chance to look someone squarely in the eye and acknowledge in a deeper way that you see that person, that they see you, and that we have a shared humanity in this crazy world we live in.

“Thank you.”

How generosity spreads

One thing I’ve noticed about generous action is that it can be hard to talk about.  More specifically, doing something generous and then telling folks about it doesn’t necessarily feel natural.

The interesting part is to watch what happens when you spread a story about someone being generous to you.

For example, when I told people about my wonderful, outrageous experience of a stranger buying lunch for me and my family in Nashville over the holidays, people couldn’t help but share their own stories of wonderful, outrageous generosity they’d experience.  One of my favorites was from a colleague who recalls to this day the time she pulled up to a toll booth and was told that her father, in the car ahead of her, had paid her toll for her.  In her words, “What’s so funny about this is that my father was wonderful, caring…heck he paid for me to go to college…and yet that time he paid my 80 cent toll really sticks in my mind as a moment he did something special for me.”

Our critical brains are so adept at explaining why a small gesture of generosity – money, time, a smile or an open ear – is small, limited, maybe inconsequential.  Yet our own experience of generosity holds the real wisdom.  When we experience generosity, we feel noticed; we understand that we are not so separate from everyone else; we suspect that people around us are there to support us; we don’t feel alone.

When you hear about someone experiencing generosity, it’s almost impossible not to recall and share that day when someone made you feel special, noticed, worthwhile and lucky.

Don’t forget, we’re still on the hunt for a handful of additional Generosity Day volunteers.  Spread the love.

“Thanks”

As I sprinted into the subway car, I noticed a woman on the platform stop, reach down, and pick a smartphone up from the ground.  She started waving it, saying loudly, “Someone dropped this phone!”

Just as the subway doors were about to close, she leaned in and handed the phone to a passenger standing next to me.  A third guy says, “I think it belongs to him,” gesturing to a man in a blue overcoat who was walking through a door to the next car.  A few gestures, a few shouts, and we get this guy’s attention.  The man standing next to me hands him his phone.

“Thanks,” he says, with a nod, and then turns away, nonplussed, as if dropping his phone on the platform and having it pass through three sets of hands while he walks away, oblivious, is just a normal occurrence.  As if people instantly dropping everything to help him isn’t worth more than a little acknowledgment.

And it occurred to me: it’s not that we don’t get touched by angels from time to time.  It’s just that we fail to notice.

Back

I got power back in my home yesterday.  We lost power 10 days ago due to hurricane Sandy.  Ten days.

There was a practical element to my not blogging during this time – not just no wifi access in the evenings to upload posts, but each step and turn of my life just took that much more time, effort and energy without basic infrastructure in place.

10 days without power was starting to take a toll on me and on my whole family.  What was a bit fun, a bit silly, a bit romantic became a plodding reality without a clear end in sight.  And suddenly our days required so much more effort, time, energy just to keep everything moving forward.

We are lucky.  We had a comfortable place to go while my home had no power and temperatures dropped to freezing.  My three kids had a warm place to sleep and safe water to drink.  Lines were long but we were able to get gas for our car so the kids could get to school.  But even so it was that much more work just to go about living our lives.

The core work of Acumen, where I work, is to support companies that provide basic goods and services – healthcare, water, housing, sanitation, education, and, yes, energy – to the half of the world’s population that hasn’t yet benefited from the global wealth creation and economic transformation that started in the 1850s.

The crazy thing to me is the idea that this work would be anything but mainstream.  As a society and a world we have the capacity and the wealth and the know-how to build the underlying infrastructure that unleashes limitless human potential, energy, creativity.  Think of all the people out there not blogging, not sharing, not contributing as they could to the world because every last ounce of energy must go into just getting by.

For just a week, New York and the whole eastern seaboard got to experience how every aspect of our lives are enabled by this infrastructure.  We got to ask ourselves how resilient we would be if we lost this cushion.  A spotlight was shone on all of the invisible things that make our lives possible.

Maybe, just maybe, this experience will help us to understand a bit more all the gifts that we have been given.  Maybe it will help us recognize the mad lottery that we have won that allows us to take these things for granted.  Maybe, once the dust has settled, once we’re warm and safe and dry but before we have fully gotten back into the rhythm of our days, it will push us to create more space for service in our lives.

So and so, such and such

This is how it usually goes.

The pitch:

Dear So and So,

I’ve been working incredibly hard on _____ and I think we are at the cusp of a breakthrough.  My new venture is going to __________ and __________ and _______ in way that would transform ________ and enable ________ in a spectacular fashion.  It would mean so much to me if you would ________ and ___________ and ________, and also, if you could, please could you introduce me to ________ and _______ as well.

(etc.)

The reply:

Dear Such and Such,

Great to hear from you. Exciting work that you’re doing.  I think I can help with _________ and _________.  And you might consider reading _______, going to _______, talking to ______.

(etc.)

The thanks:

So and so, thanks a lot.  Will do.

–          Such and such.

Which is to say, we throw our whole mind, body and soul into the big pitch, into getting attention, into demanding what WE want, and then we throw it all away without expressing thanks and appreciation with the same amount of energy.  It’s not even 80/20 most of the time, it’s 90/10 or worse.

This isn’t just about crazy cold calls/emails out of the blue.  Time and time again, we under-invest in thanks and appreciation, forgetting that this relationship business isn’t a one-shot deal.  Not even close.

We have to be tough on ourselves and really ask whether we’re putting our needs ahead of our customers’ needs.  It’s so easy to do, and it is such a fatal mistake.

Thankful

To my kids for their wide-eyed, wide-grinned, bright-eyed, PJ-clad good morning smiles.

To the internet for telling me how to keep the iPhone from skipping songs when I run or walk – something that had been bugging me for ages.

To my wife for making playlists with upbeat top 40 I’d never listen to otherwise – getting me up the hill fleet-footed

To these crazy Vibram shoes for letting me run again and to Christopher McDougall for teaching me that I (and you) were born to run


To my body, and my left knee in particular, for (mostly) putting up with my crazy schemes.

To holidays that bring families together, even if it seems awkward and sometimes painful – in this day and age, if not for this, when would we reinforce these connections?

To all of you for reading and for keeping the bar high

It’s a good day to give thanks. Try it. You’ll like it.

Hunt for thank you opportunities

Ari reminded me of a study I’d heard about but forgotten.  Donors to nonprofits were divided into three groups:

  1. A group that was called and personally thanked
  2. A group that was called and personally thanked and invited to a subsequent event
  3. A control group

The not-surprising finding is that the first group was more likely to give in the future than the third group.  The surprising finding is that the second group (“thank you” + “would you do this other thing”) was LESS likely to give again than either group 1 or group 3.

Here’s another way to summarize these findings: people are really good at smelling a rat.  We know when you’re faking, know when the “thank you” (or, as Ari prefers and I agree, “I’m grateful”) is pro forma so you can get on to the real reason you called.

This is why I hate newsletters that sounds like boring impersonal newsletters, why form thank you notes that are for anything other than tax purposes are a no-no, and why it’s a mistake to take any shortcuts at all when thanking people (meaning: if you can choose between thanking 10 people personally and 40 en mass using some clever Outlook email trick, do the 10 real ones).

It’s also why I’m going to search even harder for opportunities to tell the people to whom I’m grateful that I’m grateful, and I’m going to fight the temptation to say “thank you AND….” with all my might.